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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

How Does Breathing Affect Your Mental Wellbeing?

Most people don’t pay much attention to their breathing; after all, it is an automatic function and you’ve plenty of other things to worry about. But learning even a little about the functions of the breath can help you to make better decisions and feel more in control of your life.

Mindful breathing techniques have been around since ancient times, and there is a good reason for this. These days they may be taught by an online therapist, but the principles developed in centuries old yoga meditation are still relevant to us in modern times, perhaps now more so than ever.

You have probably been told at some difficult point in your life ‘just breathe’, but it is not always helpful advice unless you have a few facts and techniques at hand to assist you. The rate and depth of your breathing has been scientifically proven to affect your stress levels and cognitive functions, for example.

Shallow fast breathing causes your nervous system to upregulate and makes you tense and anxious, triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. Controlled, deep slow exhalations turn on your anti-stress response, decreasing your heart rate and variability.

Even if you are relaxed in front of the TV you are not necessarily breathing correctly. We often breathe shallow and fast without even realising we are doing so. To increase the body’s oxygen levels and lower the heartrate, practice diaphragmatic breathing, or ‘belly breathing’; breathing deeply into the abdomen rather than shallow breaths into the chest.

Studies show that anxious people who practiced these techniques twice a day for eight weeks reported reduced symptoms of the physical signs of anxiety, and increased levels of overall emotional wellbeing. Bypassing a busy mind and focusing on your body and breath will help you centre yourself and reconnect to your emotional core.

Breathing deeply is also an excellent tool to draw on in moments of acute stress. Maybe certain situations trigger your anxiety, such as driving on a busy motorway, or shopping in a crowded supermarket. Even if you are not to prone anxiety attacks, we all experience sudden heart skipping moments which make us hold our breath and from time to time.

By taking rapid inhalations and slow exhalations of eight seconds, the heart rate will be slowed, helping to counteract the fight or flight’ response that the body triggers in tense situations. Controlling your breath also takes more oxygen to the brain, allowing you to think more clearly and make better decisions.

Learning to breathe mindfully also triggers the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which causes the body to release calming feel-good hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin. By connecting with these emotional centres in your brain, you will be able to take control at moments of anxiety and feel more relaxed, confident, and in control.

There are many different methods to go about improving your breathing. Mindfulness, for example, involves focusing on the mind, body, and breath together and observing your breathing in a non-judgemental manner. By being in the present moment without forcing it, you may be able to access your emotions more clearly and boost your sense of wellbeing.

If you would like some more information about mindfulness therapy online, get in touch today.

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